What is your occupation and how did you come to work in this field?
I am an Assistant Attorney General in the Litigation Bureau of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s Office. My job is to represent agents of the State of New York against constitutional claims in federal court. As an “AAG,” I have a unique opportunity to engage in all facets of the litigation process at an early stage in my career. For each of my cases, I am tasked with developing a legal strategy, engaging in substantive motion practice, and representing my clients in court. My goal is to master the art of winning a case through motion practice and to successfully try four federal civil trials in the next three years. I am proud to say I will be trying my first federal civil case this coming July.
I decided to become a lawyer during my senior year in high school in the wake of the Amadou Diallo verdict. Mr. Diallo was shot at forty-one times by four undercover officers only a few miles from my high school. Despite substantial proof that the shooting was unlawful, all four police officers were acquitted. Since then, my mission has been to become an experienced trial attorney with the litigation skills to protect New Yorkers. I learned more about the AG’s Office while researching former AG Eliot Spitzer’s prosecutorial initiatives, while I was a student at Princeton University. It was then that I began to understand the importance of the AG’s Office as a vehicle for social change. I have been an AAG for almost two years under current AG Eric Schneiderman, who is nationally recognized as one of the best attorneys general in the country. I feel privileged to have this opportunity.
What is the biggest challenge of your work?
“Excellence is in the details. Give attention to the details and excellence will come.” - Perry Paxton.
The difference between a good litigator and a great litigator is an obsession with details. When I worked for U.S. District Judge George B. Daniels, I spent each day reviewing the pleadings and motions of attorneys. Lawyers who exhibited the greatest attention to detail were the best advocates for their clients because they had a stronger grasp of the facts and legal issues than their adversaries. It’s a challenge because each case proffers its own unique collection of particulars that must be vetted. However, the payoff is worth the effort. There is nothing like submitting a motion or entering a courtroom confident that no one knows your case better than you.
What is your proudest achievement?
My proudest moment was being selected by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. as an Earl Warren scholar. The Earl Warren Scholarship is awarded to law students throughout the country who have exhibited a strong commitment to social justice and use their legal training to promote the civil rights of others. While receiving the scholarship itself was wonderful, it was particularly memorable for me because it came from LDF. When I was five years old, I was denied acceptance into a public school gifted and talented program even though I met and exceeded all the academic requirements. If LDF had not represented our case pro bono, my parents would not have been able to afford the legal fees to fight the school district’s decision. LDF won my case and put me on a different academic trajectory.
The scholarship showed that LDF still believed in me. It was a very humbling experience.
What leaders, thinkers or doers do you admire most?
The people I admire most are my mother, for her devotion to our family; Teddy Roosevelt for his progressivism; John Starks for being a basketball legend (don’t fight me on this); and Jesse Jackson for being one of the first African-Americans to run for president. However the person I’ve modeled my professional style after is my father. In an era where arrogance and impetuousness are regularly romanticized as strengths, and compassion is frequently mistaken for weakness, my father’s example has taught me that hard work and caring for others are the best ways to achieve success.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
I see myself practicing law to promote social and economic justice. Whether it is through legal advocacy or another means of civic leadership, I would like to work in service to my fellow New Yorkers, to enable all of us to have an opportunity to accomplish our goals with integrity.
What is one thing you've learned from the CUP Fellows Program that you would pass along to young people who want their careers and lives to have an impact?
The most important thing I have learned from the CUP Fellows Program is that the future is in good hands. At each of our training sessions, I am blown away by the accomplishments, intelligence, and social consciousness of my CUP Fellows class. In today’s society there is so much focus on the problems of the future that we sometimes overlook its promise. Each one of us has the ability to leave an imprint on the world. Make it positive and make it count.